Love, Control, and Contraception: Unmasking Reproductive Coercion


In intimate relationships, decisions regarding reproductive choices remain significantly vulnerable to manipulation and coercion — such subtle controls are frequently exercised through contraceptive practices.

Reproductive coercion broadly refers to a variety of tactics for obstructing reproductive choices, such as emotional blackmailing, manipulation, threats, and deceit. It also includes physical, psychological, emotional, and financial abuse intended to either promote or prevent pregnancy. This can destroy the victim’s sense of self and inner strength, trapping them in a never-ending cycle of pain, fear, and manipulation. 

Understanding reproductive coercion in contraceptive usage is essential to empower individuals, particularly women, regarding their reproductive rights and control over their bodies. This article will help you understand various manifestations of reproductive coercion, its impact on contraceptive decision-making, and ways to resist it.

Understanding reproductive coercion

Reproductive coercion can take various forms depending on whether the intent is to avoid or encourage pregnancy. Given the intention, here are some ways that coercion can manifest:

Pregnancy promoting behaviors

Research suggests that pregnancy coercion, pregnancy pressure, and contraceptive method sabotage are all common manifestations of reproductive coercions to promote pregnancy.

  • Pregnancy coercion and pressure include threatening partners to become pregnant against their free will. For example, it could manifest as an inappropriate and unwavering desire to start a family despite partners’ obvious reluctance or conflicting wills. It can also include the usage of emotional manipulation tactics, like insisting that children will strengthen the bond they share.
  • Birth control sabotage. An important study described active interference with a partner’s contraceptive measures to encourage pregnancy as birth control sabotage. Examples include removing contraceptive patches, hiding, withholding, or destroying a partner’s oral contraceptives, and deliberately breaking or poking holes in a condom or removing a condom during sex to promote pregnancy. 

Pregnancy prevention behaviors

Another crucial aspect of reproductive coercion is pregnancy prevention. It often involves forcing a partner to use contraceptives against their will, such as forcing women to take birth control pills to avoid and terminate pregnancies.

To an extreme extent, it can also include withdrawal of logistic and emotional support in an attempt to blackmail a partner to prevent pregnancy. Pregnancy prevention behaviors can also manifest as restriction of access to reproductive healthcare, compelling a spouse to have sterilization treatments done against their will, and threats to terminate the relationship or withhold emotional support if one partner gets pregnant or wants reproductive autonomy.

Recognizing signs of reproductive coercion

Recognizing signs of reproductive coercion is essential to identify and address this form of abuse within intimate relationships. The signs are discussed below:

Behavioral red flags

In intimate relationships, you should pay detailed attention to the subtle warning signs of manipulation and coercion to protect your autonomy and well-being. Such red flags often include:

  • Keeping track of your partner’s period dates to perform sex, 
  • Forcing him/her to have sex, specifically when contraceptives are inaccessible, or
  • Dismissing discussions about contraceptive usage.

Emotional manipulation and control tactics

The psychological aspects of reproductive coercion can include gaslighting, emotional blackmailing, blaming, and inducing guilt. The coercive partner may trick the other into believing that their concerns are invalid and that their deliberate choice of choosing to have or not have a child is irrational. It’s also when a coercive partner emotionally traps the other into believing that children are the gateway to happy and long-lasting relationships. 

Isolating behaviors

Coercive partners often intimidate others by limiting their access to friends, family, and other support networks who would help offer information regarding healthy reproductive choices and the possible usage of contraceptives. Here are a few ways in which coercive partners might isolate the victim:

  • Controlled transportation
  • Constant updates
  • Discouraging outdoor hangouts and meetups
  • Access to social accounts and passwords
  • Imposing curfews and restrictions

Impact on contraceptive decision-making

In intimate relationships, decisions regarding contraceptive usage should be mutual. However, balance is distorted when a partner employs coercive and deceptive tactics to force the other into particular contraceptive practices against their reproductive wills. The following section discusses the influence of reproductive coercion on contraceptive choices and its psychological repercussions for the victims. 

Influence of reproductive coercion on contraceptive choices

Reproductive coercion often interferes with contraceptive choices. Coercive partners may force others into having a child by discarding contraceptives or tampering with them, and not withdrawing when that was the agreed-upon method of contraception. 

In contrast, those who want to avoid pregnancy might pressure their partners to take oral pills, and wear vaginal rings, contraceptive patches, and Intrauterine Devices (IUDs).

Consider the following scenario: Jenny’s preferred method of contraception has always been birth control pills. Her partner, David, challenges her decision regularly, claiming that hormonal contraception is harmful and unnecessary. David continuously questions the effectiveness of the pills, expressing mistrust in them despite Jenny’s preference, and insists that she cease taking them.

This case shows how reproductive coercion undermines autonomy, creates emotional distress, modifies decision-making, and affects adherence to chosen methods, all of which have a significant impact on the use of personal contraceptives.

Emotional and psychological outcomes of reproductive coercion for victims

Reproductive coercion poses several physiological and psychological threats to the victims. A few of them are discussed below.

  • Poor mental health outcomes: An important study highlights that reproductive coercion victimization predicts depression, anxiety, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) sympto
  • Loss of autonomy: Victims may not consider themselves worthy enough to make essential decisions regarding their bodies and choices. 
  • Distrust in relationships: Intimate relationships can become widely distrusted because of coercive experiences. Victims may find it difficult to trust new partners or may live in constant fear of being controlled or manipulated in the future.
  • Reproductive health problems: An important study showed that sexually coerced adolescents experience many reproductive health problems such as pain or burning while urinating, irregular menstruation, itching or irritation, lower abdominal pain, and vaginal discharge.
  • Pregnancy and contraceptive usage: Reproductive coercion has been linked to higher odds of an unplanned pregnancy in the recent past and lower odds of using contraceptives in India, a higher probability of using female-controlled methods in Bangladesh, India, and Nepal, and covert contraceptive use in Nigeria.

Read more: Fighting the Blues: How to Build Resilience Against Depression 

Addressing and preventing reproductive coercion

Reproductive autonomy is a fundamental human right. Recognizing early signs of coercion and ensuring its prevention is crucial for the health of romantic relationships and the well-being of the partners involved. Respecting each other’s autonomy, boundaries, and decision-making creates success and happiness in relationships. 

This section discusses various strategies that can assist in preventing coercion in relationships.

Communication strategies for healthy relationships

Communication is the key to happier and healthier bonds. Various communication strategies can result in better contraceptive usage practices and better reproductive outcomes for couples. A few of them are mentioned below:

  • Discuss family planning, your desire to plan or avoid pregnancy, and your suitable time to conceive
  • Respect your partner’s opinions, and do not impose your choices on them
  • Inform your partner if you feel under enormous unnecessary pressure to have or not have a child
  • Create a safe environment where both people in the relationship can openly express each other’s concerns
  • Make mutual decisions regarding childbirth
  • Seek professional help if you both can’t find common ground

Read more: Grounding Techniques for Anxiety 

Establishing boundaries and consent

Consent and boundaries preserve individual autonomy and the right to decide for their own bodies. Obtaining your partner’s consent and consideration of their boundaries before making any reproductive and sexual move ensures that reproductive coercion is prevented. It is also imperative to respect your partner’s reproductive choices, their free will to use contraceptives, and their decision to have children. Such boundaries can look like: 

  • Respecting autonomy in decision-making
  • Having open and unhindered conversations regarding family planning
  • Respecting established limits in sexual interactions and the use of contraceptives

Read more: The Importance of Personal Boundaries – Insights 

In conclusion

Reproductive coercion manifests itself in overt and covert forms, both of which are detrimental to the well-being of victims. This article can help you understand and counter reproductive coercion in relationships. Advocating for reproductive autonomy and creating healthier relationship dynamics contributes to the promotion of respectful and informed decision-making in intimate relationships.

If you would like to see more resources on contraception, check out the Relationships Science Labs. The lab uses the research of the Institute for Life Management Science to produce courses, certifications, podcasts, videos, and other tools. Visit the Relationships Science Labs today.

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